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Student-Level Data and Dropout/Graduation Rates

Last updated September 08, 2014

    ​For years, California was not able to accurately report the number of students who drop out of high school. The state relied on aggregate reports from school districts because it had no student-level data system in place to track where students were enrolled throughout their K-12 public school education. This resulted in many students falling through the cracks of the system and not being counted as a dropout (i.e.: transferring to another school and then never showing up).

    In 2008, the state reported dropout rates that use aggregated student-level data for the first time. This results in a much more accurate count for the state as a whole and for most schools and districts. This data release represented an important milestone in the implementation of CALPADS—a statewide data system that can track students and their academic achievement over time. CALPADS is now operational, although some problems in the system are still being worked out.

    Student-level data offer powerful information that can be used to better target resources, assistance, and interventions to keep students in school and on track to graduation. CALPADS collects statewide assessment data, enrollment data, and other demographic elements required to meet federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reporting requirements.

    Graduation and Dropout Data

    Improving the accuracy of graduation and dropout rates was the first application of California's student-level data. Previously, it was difficult to differentiate students who left school permanently from those who simply transferred to another high school. This particularly affects schools with highly mobile student populations, such as continuation schools and juvenile justice schools.

    Under the new data system, the state can better track when students leave a school as well as why they have left a school. In the past, school districts designated students as either dropouts or graduates. Today each student has a statewide student identifier (SSID) so the state can track exactly where students are attending school throughout their K-12 public school education. The state can report on what happens to students who neither graduate nor drop out, providing a more thorough understanding of what happens to students when they leave a school.

    On Ed-Data, the reporting of high school dropout rates reflects these changes, beginning with the 2006-07 graduate and dropout data. In addition to the reported number of dropouts, the figures in the Dropouts by Ethnicity table have been adjusted to account for Re-enrolled Dropouts (students reported as dropouts but found to be enrolled in another California public school) and Lost Transfers (students reported as having transferred to another California public school but were not found enrolled in the state database). The 1-year and 4-year dropout rates are calculated based on these adjusted numbers.

    With the 2009-10 school year, the CDE began reporting 4-year cohort graduate and dropout data and we have replaced the Dropouts by Ethnicity and Graduates by Ethnicity tables on Ed-Data with new Cohort Graduation Rate and Cohort Dropout Rate tables that reflect this new way of calculating the data.

    These data look at the "cohort" or group of students that could potentially graduate during a 4-year time period (grade 9 through grade 12). This cohort is then "adjusted" by adding students who transfer in to the cohort and subtracting the students who transferred to another school that offers a high school diploma, emigrated to another county, or died during the years covered by the cohort rate. Students who drop out during the four year period remain in the adjusted cohort, as well as students who complete 12th grade and exit the educational system without graduating. Students who take longer than four years to graduate or remain enrolled after four years are also included as part of the cohort.

    However students from the cohort who (1) pass the General Education Development (GED) test, (2) complete requirements necessary to obtain a special education certificate of completion, or (3) remain enrolled in the 9-12 instructional system without a high school diploma are not included in calculations for either the cohort graduation or cohort dropout rates. These groups of students receive separate completer rates (GED Completer Rate, Special Education Completer Rate, and Still Enrolled Completer Rate). Thus, the cohort graduation rate and the cohort dropout rate will not sum to 100% when one or more of these other completer rates exist within the cohort.

    Prior to 2009-10, the graduation rate was calculated by dividing the number of high school graduates by the number of graduates plus dropouts (based on data from schools) from the previous four years. This calculation was called the NCES Completer Rate.

    Similarly, one-year and four-year dropout rates were calculated based on the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) dropout criteria. The one-year dropout rate was the number of grade 9-12 dropouts divided by grade 9-12 enrollments. The four-year dropout rate was an estimate of the percent of students who would drop out in a four-year period based on data from a single year

    Because the 4-year cohort rates are now calculated differently, graduation and dropout rates before 2009-10 cannot be compared to rates from 2009-10 and subsequent years

    Click here for an overview by the California Department of Education of the state's 2013 graduation and dropout rates. 

    All contents copyright © 2015, Education Data Partnership. All rights reserved.

    Ed-Data is a partnership of the California Department of Education, EdSource and the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) designed to offer educators, policy makers, the legislature, parents, and the public quick access to timely and comprehensive data about K-12 education in California.